HARTFORD — The city will seek proposals as early as next week to redevelop more than a dozen acres just north of downtown, seeking to capitalize on new attention that a planned minor league park is bringing to the long-ignored area.
City officials said the proposals could encompass all or parts of the area known as Downtown North, but they must reflect these city priorities: the ballpark, a supermarket, housing and retail. They said the proposals also must ensure a cohesive development of the area, with the intent of generating much-needed tax revenue and reconnecting the now-barren area with downtown and the city's neighborhood to the north.
Hartford Mayor Pedro E. Segarra said he believes that the ballpark, if approved by the city council, would provide a potent catalyst for redevelopment in Downtown North.
"We have to take this opportunity while we have it," Segarra said.
The city is still working out the details of what it will require in the proposals, but it is expected that there will be a deadline of early August. The city could hire multiple developers or a single developer for the entire project.
What is built in Downtown North would be largely funded by private developers, city officials said, shifting as much of the cost as possible off the shoulders of Hartford taxpayers.
The development would probably take place in phases, and new taxes could help pay for the city's portion of financing a new $60 million stadium for the New Britain Rock Cats.
Development would unfold over years, beginning with the ballpark which, if approved, would need to be open for the 2016 season. Overall development could cost $500 million or more.
The planned redevelopment of Downtown North, or DoNo, has been percolating since 2008, and earlier this year, a comprehensive plan was unveiled listing the priorities of housing, retail and a supermarket. The Downtown North plan called for a mix of low- and mid-rise buildings that would blend well with historic structures farther to the north on Main and Ann Uccello streets.
A ballpark was not mentioned, but city officials have said they couldn't talk about it because negotiations with the Rock Cats had to remain secret. Those talks got underway in late 2012.
City council President Shawn T. Wooden said the move now to seek proposals fits with the next step of turning the Downtown North plan into reality.
"Having the Rock Cats would accelerate the development for this whole area," Wooden said. "It has generated a level of interest that didn't exist before."
Since the ballpark plan was announced three weeks ago, it has stirred wide-ranging public debate over how it will be financed and how much the city will be asked to pay. In recent days, Wooden and other city officials have said that ways must be found to shift the burden as much as possible away from taxpayers.
The ballpark plan also led to the withdrawal of a plan for a supermarket on land just to the south of the ballpark site, also in Downtown North, because the operator, a ShopRite owner, thought that the grocery store and ballpark could not co-exist.
Thomas E. Deller, the city's development director, said he has received more than a dozen calls and visits from developers since the ballpark announcement, and some of those have included discussions of a supermarket.
A supermarket in the downtown area is seen as a key amenity not only to attract tenants for hundreds of apartments now being built downtown, but also for the North End, where there is no major grocery store.
As another example of interest spurred by the ballpark proposal, Deller pointed to the former Bank of America processing center on Windsor Street, just east of the ballpark site, going under contract after being vacant for six years.
Wooden stressed that council approval and public hearings would be required before any developer was selected.
In recent years, the city has been acquiring land in Downtown North to prepare for redevelopment. Those efforts have accelerated in recent months. Currently, the city council is considering buying nearly 3 acres for $2.5 million that are now used for surface parking. Most of the property is across the street from the ballpark site and would give the city control of the entire block that once was the site of the H.B. Davis building, nicknamed the "Butt Ugly" building.
The city would certainly bring land to the table in negotiations with developers, but it isn't yet known what other incentives might be available.
Wooden said there would a heavy emphasis on private investment with as minimal taxpayer involvement as is realistic.
The Downtown North area was severed from the rest of downtown in the 1960s with the construction of I-84 and suffered a slow, painful decline. The highway created not only a physical but a psychological barrier and further isolated the neighborhoods to the north.
"This is about creating a neighborhood," Deller said, "filling in a crater, a void in the city."